Greetings from Pam Imm and Abe Wandersman of the Wandersman Center in South Carolina. We’ve been fortunate to be team members evaluating programs across a variety of settings. In addition, as educators and writers in empowerment evaluation, there have been plenty opportunities to share information about various components of evaluation (e.g., process evaluation, data-informed decision making, etc.) with students, nonprofit leaders and government officials. Our evaluation work with the military began with the Air Force and U.S. Air Force Academy, then expanded into all branches including military service academies. Truthfully, we weren’t sure how senior level officers and even more junior-level leaders would resonate to collaborating with “outsiders” not in uniform but who did have some formal letters behind their name.
Light Bulb Moments
We quickly learned that working with the military and those in our prestigious military service academies is really not that different from working with an influential group of leaders running a large nonprofit or health foundation. In fact, many issues they address to ensure military readiness are also those that civilian groups (e.g., coalitions) work to improve such as rates of suicide, alcohol and drug misuse, and sexual assault. We have found that many military leaders are interested in determining if their programs or policies are having the desired effects. After all, they too have important leaders regularly monitoring their progress across certain areas to ensure positive change. These smart and respected leaders face similar infrastructure challenges as those in the civilian sector. For example, funding is a large issue. While budgets for military operations are significant, funding for specific areas of focus (e.g., sexual assault prevention, etc.) are not. In addition, ensuring a highly-skilled workforce in these areas is an ongoing challenge. Turnover is expected about every two years. This creates a variety of challenges related to evaluation knowledge and skill building, continuity, and sustained efforts over time.
Time is a common theme throughout our work. There never seems to be enough of it…certainly this is also common in the civilian world as well. Without specific job descriptions (sometimes referred to as a “billet”), many staff assigned to work in these important areas participate as a “collateral duty” which is above and beyond their regular military assignment. So, the issue of having enough time (as well as scheduling) is very real. Dealing with this issue has required us to work with it since there is no getting around it.
Evaluation tasks are similar in both the military and the civilian sectors. There are programs, policies, practices, and protocols that military leaders may believe to be effective but have little documented evidence. They too, frequently have concerns about not showing that their programs/policies are accomplishing as much as they believe to be true. Certainly, the tasks for planning and implementing an evaluation may be delegated to lower ranks which can create new expectations for those (who also have minimal time). Many are interested in evidence-based practices, documentation of progress, and even learning from the civilian population. Our work with the military has suggested few changes to the details of how we do our work, but we are occasionally referred to as Sir or Ma’am.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating MVE TIG Week with our colleagues in the Military and Veteran’s Issues Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our MVE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.